The Public Interest

A Most Popular Conspiracy

Michael S. Lund

Spring 1980

FOR most of its history, social security was considered one of the most successful enactments of the federal government. Since 1940, when the first government old-age-insurance check was sent to Ida Fuller of Brattleboro, Vermont, the social security system has expanded steadily and now covers 35 million beneficiaries. By 1979, it was paying out $147 billion annually in old-age, disability, and medical benefits. Little criticism accompanied this continuous growth. If an occasional Republican Presidential candidate questioned the program, it was at his peril; social security appeared invulnerable. Its apparent success at treating a needy clientele with increasing generosity while spending little on administration won the praise of many a political science professor to generations of undergraduates. Here was a federal bureaucracy that really worked! 

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